Notes from Santorini

I read the news today o boy: Greece’s “jobless rate for people ages 16 to 24… is 48 percent”; and on Monday “After violent protests left dozens of buildings aflame in Athens, the Greek Parliament voted early on Monday to approve a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by the country’s foreign lenders in exchange for new loans to keep Greece from defaulting on its debt.”

Honestly, I wasn’t planning on posting again this week on the Boutari blog.

It seemed like it would be in bad taste to post about things as frivolous as wine and winemaking when our sisters and brothers in Greece are facing some of the hardest times since the end of the of the second world war.

But then, this morning, I received the following, simple however deeply moving message from Santorini…

    Location: Santorini Megalochori
    Date: 2/16/2012, early morning

    The sun is rising, the sky is taking a marine blue color and the vine is still sleeping.

    The vine grower has already removed the unavailing branches. Now remains the time that vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

    Petros Vamvakousis
    Winery Manager

They’ve been growing grapes using bush/basket training on Santorini since the Middle Ages and beyond. And come what may, the vine grower will come and weave the young branches into a shape of basket.

I love the wines that they grow on Santorini and thank goodness for them.

Click here for the Boutari blog.

Two favorite white wines for summer (and the ultimate sushi wine?)

Above: Tracie P and I have been enjoying a lot of my number-two white wine of the summer of 2010, the Clos Roche Blanche 2008 Sauvignon Blanche No. 2 (does anyone know why it’s called “numéro 2”?).

Chez Parzen, we’ve been enjoying a lot of great wine this summer but two white wines have really stood out. And when I say “favorite white wines for summer,” I mean wines that we keep coming back to over and over again.

Alice first turned me on to the wines of Clos Roche Blanche five years ago in NYC and I was immediately hooked on Cot.

BrooklynGuy is also a fan of the Sauvignon Blanc: check out this tough-love post he did last year around this time.

Here in Texas, we’re still drinking the 2008 and it’s showing great, so fresh, such pure white fruit (pear and apple) in it, great acidity, low alcohol, and under $20 at The Austin Wine Merchant. Summer time means a lot of salad and canned tuna in olive oil, pasta al pomodoro, and fresh cheeses. I just love drinking this wine, as we did last night, with tomato sauce.

Just looking at the color, above, makes me wanna slurp it up!

Above: The 2008 Santorini from Boutari, made from 100% Assyrtiko grapes, has a slightly oxidative thing going on. I think the gods made this wine just for me and Tracie P.

Anyone who’s been following Do Bianchi this year knows that I’ve become somewhat obsessed with the wines of Santorini. (Check out the thread here.)

I was hired this year to create content for the Boutari Social Media Project and one of the best things about the gig is how much great wine I’ve got to try for the first time: I’ve been loving Santorini by Sigalas and Gaia (both available in this country but not yet in Texas, although Sigalas is coming). But the wine Tracie P and I keep coming back to over and over again is the Boutari 2008 Santorini (also available for under $20 at The Austin Wine Merchant).

Tracie P put it best when she said it’s so mineral that “it’s like drinking seawater.” It’s salty and has a rich mouthfeel, a grainy texture that I can’t get enough of, the alcohol is well balanced in the wine, and it has that slightly oxidative note that we dig (and might even have aphrodisiacal properties where familiar matters are concerned).

Boutari’s Santorini and Santorini in general may very well be the perfect sushi wine. Remember when Aldo paired Gaia Santorini Thalassitis with raw sea urchin for me at Le Bernardin?

Santorini is such a fascinating appellation: drastically difficult grape-growing conditions, all pre-phylloxera rootstock (because the little bugs can’t jump from one Santorini’s tiny grains of volcanic sand to another), vines 80-100 years old, the whole connection to Venice and Venetian merchants in the Renaissance. Santorini, when it’s good, is just one of those wines that thrills and surprises me, stimulates my intellect, and transports me to another place.

Isn’t that what great wines are all about?

I hope everyone’s having a great summer with something great in your glass! Thanks for reading…

I’m Drinking What He’s Pouring (or This Ain’t Circe’s Wine)

Above: despite his modesty, wine writer David Lynch is no second-string sommelier (center, with enologist Antigoni Karamvali and marketing director Valerie Tsakiris of Boutari).

It seems that Greek wines are in the air: Eric included a wine from Santorini in a post and column this week and I recently learned that the 2008 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen will include a seminar on Greek wine led by David Lynch — wine writer, top-flight sommelier, and all-around good guy.

Week before last, David and I attended a tasting of wines by Boutari (whose website is written entirely in Greek). Besides Boutari’s winemaker and marketing director, we were also joined by Mitch Frank of The Wine Spectator, a former political writer (whose insights into the current campaign were fascinating).

David likes to joke that he’s a “J[unior] V[arsity]” member among NYC’s top sommeliers but, let me tell you, this guy really knows his stuff: few can rival his knowledge of Italian wine and he’s tasted and poured with the best of them.

“95% of the value of a wine in a restaurant,” he said, “is the serving temperature and the stemware. Serve a $35 bottle of wine at the right temperature and in the right glass, and it’s worth twice that much.”

Above: of the whites, I really liked the Moscofilero (left) but the Santorini (center) blew me away.

While the higher-end blends of native Greek varieties and Bordeaux grapes were international in style and heavy on the wood, the lower-end bottlings were fresh, clean, and delightful. The Moschofilero (white) was distinctive, slightly musky, and delicious with grilled octopus and I really liked the Santorini, made from Assyrtiko grapes, a white with balanced mineral and fruit flavors.

As Eric mentions in his post, the vineyards on the volcanic island of Santorini are a sight to behold (I’ve never been but have seen photographs): the vines are trained in “bushes” (or baskets, as enologist Antigoni Karamvali called them). Bush training helps to protect the vines from strong winds (the same training methods are used in Sicily and Apulia). The bush training also allows the vine to “migrate”: Antigoni showed me images of vineyards originally planted in perfectly straight rows, where the vines had crept — at slightly different rates — to more humid parts of the vineyard. Drinking this wine, you really get that sense of place, that sensation that this wine could have been made no were else in the world.

The wine that surprised me the most, however, was the Nemea (a place name), made from 100% Aghiorghitiko (also known as Agiorgitiko) grapes: the wine was light in color and in the mouth, with wonderful red berry flavor, a perfect wine to serve slightly chilled on a summer’s eve with filleted branzino (otherwise known as Mediterranean sea bass). From what I understood, the price-point for this wine should weigh in under $20.

This was no wine of Circe.* And, hey, if David is pouring, I’m drinking.

In other news…

Thanks to everyone for the messages and positive vibes for VinoWire, which launched this week with a scoop about the changing of the guard at the Bruno Giacosa winery. I am proud to report that VinoWire was the first publication — Italian or English — to to break the story and to reveal the name of the new winemaker. Stay tuned to VinoWire for more…

* For [the painting] “The Wine of Circe” by Edward Burne Jones.

Dusk-haired and gold-robed o’er the golden wine
She stoops, wherein, distilled of death and shame,
Sink the black drops; while, lit with fragrant flame,
Round her spread board the golden sunflowers shine.

Doth Helio here with Hecatè combine
(O Circe, thou their votaress!) to proclaim
For these thy guests all rapture in Love’s name,
Till pitiless Night give Day the countersign?

Lords of their hour, they come. And by her knee
Those cowering beasts, their equals heretofore,
Wait; who with them in new equality
To-night shall echo back the sea’s dull roar
With a vain wail from passion’s tide-strown shore

Where the disheveled seaweed hates the sea.

— Dante Gabriel Rossetti